“I received exceptional patient care at Sentara. The team’s attention and patience enabled me to walk out of the hospital just four short weeks after surgery. I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for them.”
During his regular dental exam, Larry Staunton’s dentist discovered something unusual in his #20 tooth (mandibular second premolar) on the lower left side of his mouth. Larry admits that his tooth was sore and uncomfortable for two years but never associated it with anything serious.
At the end of June 2010, during his regular dental exam, Larry’s dentist noticed significant swelling and that his gum tissue had in fact pulled away from the infected tooth. “The gap was so large you could fit a pencil eraser inside of it,” says Larry.
His dentist referred him to an oral surgeon who extracted the infected tooth immediately and sent it out for testing. When the results came back, the oral surgeon identified the cancer as “left mandible alveolar squamous cell carcinoma.”
Larry was then referred to Dr. Karakla, otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon with Eastern Virginia Medical School at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, for additional cancer CT scans and PET scans. The Sentara Cancer Network’s team of cancer specialists reviewed all of Larry’s scans, x-rays, and medical history at the weekly cancer conference meeting and came to a consensus that the cancer had not spread to his lymph nodes and lungs.
On October 6, 2010, Dr. Karakla removed approximately two thirds of Larry’s jaw from the left side to the right side, as well as twelve teeth, in order to resect all of the cancer. Next, another Sentara Cancer Network specialist on Staunton’s care plan team, Dr. Bak, otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon, with Eastern Virginia Medical School at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, removed part of his fibula bone (leg bone) and reconstructed a new jaw bone. “The surgeons did a great job. My friends and family were shocked at how good I looked, especially so soon out of surgery,” says Staunton.
In mid-October, once he was out of surgery and recovery in the ICU, Larry was transferred up to the ninth floor for physical therapy and speech pathology. He was scheduled for three hours of physical therapy and one hour of speech language therapy every day. “I couldn’t wait to exercise and get moving,” says Staunton.
Larry credits his care plan team for helping him transition from a wheelchair, to a walker, to a cane and eventually assistance free, in such a short period of time. “The whole team helped me with my overall successful and speedy recovery,” says Staunton.
Since Dr. Bak had to remove part of Larry’s fibula bone in order to reconstruct his jaw bone, it was crucial for his physical therapy team to improve his ability to move and function slowly but steadily. “My physical therapy activities included sitting with weights on my legs and lifting, walking along a balance beam with handrails, walking and picking up cones, riding the stationary bike, and stair climbers.”
Larry said, “I was always well-informed throughout the entire process. There was never any gap in coverage, the team worked together like clockwork.”
“After surgery, everything was swollen and I was very weak – I really needed to strengthen my vocal chords,” says Staunton. His speech pathology services included; dysphagia training (disorder of swallowing), speech and language training, as well as voice training. “My team of nurses encouraged me to walk and talk as frequently and comfortably as possible.”
On November 5, 2010, Larry was released from the hospital and was able to return home – just one month after surgery. At his first post-op appointment with Dr. Karakla on November 16, 2010, Larry told him that he wanted to be back to work by November 29th - Dr. Karakla’s response, “not a problem.”
“I was treated by a team of specialists that worked together to provide me with exceptional care – their attention to detail and patience is unmatched. They truly are the best!”
The Sentara Cancer Network is one of the largest in the nation, and is the only accredited cancer network in Virginia, a distinction from the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer, which means we are held to the highest standards in delivering cancer care to our community. Sentara Cancer Network has been awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award from the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer. The network has earned re-accreditation as the only Integrated Network Program in Virginia.